A long-awaited audit has recommended changes – and cost savings – for the commission that manages participation in Alaska’s commercial fisheries.
A report by the Legislature’s audit division said changes to the state's Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, or CFEC, could result in $1.2 million in annual savings within three years. CFEC manages participation in the state’s limited entry fisheries, like Bristol Bay.
The report suggested moving to three part-time commissioners, instead of the three full-time commissioners its currently allotted, and hiring an executive director to oversee day to day operations. It also suggested having the Alaska Department of Fish and Game take on the agency’s administrative work, like issuing annual permits.
Kris Curtis, from Legislative Audit, said it would take about three years to make the reforms that would result in the savings.
The report was requested by Homer Rep. Paul Seaton in 2014. Fieldwork began last winter, and the report was released after the legislature’s joint budget and audit committee on Oct. 21.
Much of the report looked at efficiencies and savings. The agency is funded primarily by fishing permit fees, and takes in more than it spends, with the extra revenue supporting other state functions, including commercial fisheries management.
Critics have complained that despite that, the organization spends more than is necessary, and has been slow to perform its work in recent years. The audit notes that there are about 28 applications for fishing permits that have been ongoing for more than 10 years, and not yet resolved.
The audit also recommended finishing some long-term projects.
“The audit also concluded that in general, the commissioners have not adequately managed the daily operations,” Curtis said. “Two projects specifically, the licensing system upgrade and the archival of agency documents had not been prioritized or properly managed.”
While the audit raised some criticism about CFEC’s work during his time there, long-time commissioner Bruce Twomley said it also validated the need for the agency.
“The auditors were quite strong in their recommendation that it is important and consistent with the original legislative intent that CFEC does continue,” he said after it was released. “I think that’s the most significant finding of the report.”
A bill to eliminate the commission and move its duties to other bodies was introduced last session, but hasn’t yet been voted on. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, it’ll be up for discussion first in the House Resources Commission.
Twomley said the audit reiterated the need to keep the two organizations separate.
“The legislative intent underlying that notices that the kinds of decisions we make affect people individually, just like court decisions,” Twomley said. “And that’s very different from decisions that the department and the board of fisheries make, which affect whole classes of fishermen alike. It’s a different animal. And one of the notions mentioned by the report is keeping biological management separate from the economic management that we do so that one doesn’t influence the other.”
Twomley said some of the report’s other recommendations made sense.
“We’ve had an executive director in the past and we eliminated the exec director to absorb some budget cuts but the notion of an executive director is consistent with current needs,” he said.
Changes to CFEC would have be made by the Legislature.
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said he’d like to see the governor spearhead an effort to introduce the recommendations in the report.
“Personally, I’d like to see the Walker administration come forward with a bill. I’d like to see a neutral party bring legislation to the Legislature so we that we can look at this, again, very carefully from all aspects, and to look at it particularly from a cost-benefit analysis to fishermen throughout the state.”
This is the second report this year to suggest changes to the organization. Last winter, Fish and Game issued its own report that offered five different options for reform, from some light restructuring to eliminating the agency and moving some of its functions.